Frederick D. Patterson

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Patterson in the Oval Office with President Lyndon Johnson in 1964.

Frederick Douglass Patterson (October 10, 1901 – April 26, 1988), an American former president of what is now Tuskegee University (1935–1953) and founder of the United Negro College Fund (1944, UNCF). In 1987, President Ronald Reagan awarded Dr. Patterson the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor. In 1988, he was awarded the Spingarn Medal from the NAACP.[1]

Early life and family[edit]

Frederick Douglass Patterson was born on October 10, 1901 in Washington, D.C. to Mamie Lucille and William Ross Patterson.[citation needed] He was named after the great abolitionist and D.C. resident Frederick Douglass. Patterson was orphaned by the age of 2 when both of his parents died from tuberculosis.[citation needed] He then moved in with his sister Bessie, his primary caregiver, who sacrificed to ensure him a good education. She dedicated nearly half her $20 monthly salary to enroll him in the private elementary school of Samuel Huston College (currently Huston-Tillotson College) where his affinity for education quickly shined through. Thelma Dale Perkins, born in 1915, was a niece of his.[2]

Education and his path to academic excellence[edit]

By the age of 31, Patterson had attained three educational degrees: a Doctorate degree of Veterinary Medicine and Master of Science degree from Iowa State University (ISU), and a Doctorate of Philosophy from Cornell University.

He studied in the Agriculture Department at the Prairie View Normal and Industrial Institute (now Prairie View A&M University) in Texas.[when?][citation needed] Later, he enrolled at Iowa State College (now Iowa State University or ISU) in the College of Veterinary Medicine, where he graduated with a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine in 1923 and a Master of Science in 1927.[3]

His journey to academic accomplishment was not without its roadblocks. He was the only African American working at the Iowa State College veterinary clinic, where he learned important personal lessons about race and society.[3] In his autobiography, reflecting on the experiences, he writes, "I learned a lesson with regard to race that I never forgot: how people feel about you reflects the way you permit yourself to be treated. If you permit yourself to be treated differently, you are condemned to an unequal relationship." The same year Patterson received his Doctorate from Iowa State College in 1923, the College's first African American student athlete, Jack Trice, died from injuries sustained in a football game.[citation needed]

He earned a Doctorate of Philosophy in 1932 in Veterinary Pathology from Cornell University.[3]

Professional career[edit]

Patterson taught veterinary medicine for four years at Virginia State College while serving as the Director of Agriculture. From there, he became head of the veterinary division, then the director of the School of Agriculture at the Tuskegee Institute.[4]

In 1935, at the young age of 33, he had distinguished himself enough to be named the third President of Tuskegee Institute.

At Tuskegee Institute (between 1935-1953), President Patterson was responsible for transforming the Institute into a full-fledged university with graduate programs that exist to this day.[5] Over the course of his Presidency he founded the School of Veterinary Medicine, the Commercial Dietetics program, and spearheaded the University's engineering and commercial aviation programs. All of these programs uniquely situated African Americans and Tuskegee University in a position where they could provide highly skilled interns for prestigious internships in emerging fields.


In 1944 founded two institutions which would largely shape his overall legacy: the School of Veterinary Medicine at Tuskegee University which has graduated approximately 75 percent of the United States' black veterinarians, and the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) which administers 37 private historically black colleges and universities throughout the United States and administers 10,000 scholarships every year. Today, UNCF has raised over $3.6 billion since its inception in 1944.

Dr. Patterson's leadership won him national recognition and earned him an invitation to serve on President Harry S. Truman's President's Commission on Higher Education from 1946-47. This commission called for an important shift in American college education away from European concepts, and towards equality of opportunity. Important developments flowing historically from this Commission's report were the development of the community college network and the Title III of the Higher Education Act of 1965.

Dr. Patterson eventually became a director of the Phelps-Stokes Fund from 1958-1969 where he worked to improve education for youth of all disadvantaged backgrounds. He also founded the nonprofit Robert R. Moton Memorial Institute to improve the recruitment and management processes of HBCUs.

Eventually, Dr. Patterson would receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Ronald Reagan on June 23, 1987 in recognition of his lifetime of leadership and success in the educational field. He received a Candace Award from the National Coalition of 100 Black Women in 1986.[6]

In honor of the profound impact Dr. Patterson had on college education, especially in the African American community, UNCF established the Frederick D. Patterson Research Institute (FDPRI) in 1996. FDPRI is the nation's foremost research institution regarding educational issues facing African Americans from preschool to adulthood. Headquartered in Washington, DC within UNCF headquarters close to Howard University in the Shaw neighborhood of DC, the legacy of Dr. Frederick D. Patterson continues to live on.

Patterson is a member of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity.


  1. ^ NAACP Spingarn Medal Archived 2014-05-05 at WebCite
  2. ^ "Thelma Dale Perkins: A Life of Civic Engagement @ Anacostia Community Documentation Initiative". Retrieved 2015-11-09.
  3. ^ a b c "A Cyclone Who Changed the World: Frederick D. Patterson". Cardinal Tales. ISU. 2015-02-12. Retrieved 2018-11-19.
  4. ^ [1]
  5. ^ "Frederick D. Patterson | Tuskegee University". Retrieved 2017-02-28.
  6. ^ "CANDACE AWARD RECIPIENTS 1982-1990, Page 3". National Coalition of 100 Black Women. Archived from the original on March 14, 2003.
  • Goodson, Martia Graham. Chronicles of Faith: The Autobiography of Frederick D. Patterson. Birmingham, Ala.: University of Alabama Press, 2002. ISBN 0-8173-1196-3